Courtesy of MSCHF/MEGA

What ‘Satan Shoes’ teaches us about PR’s impact on search

It started off as a stunt for US rapper Lil Nas X, in collaboration with Brooklyn art collective MSCHF designing a pair of so-called ‘Satan Shoes’. 

The 666 pairs of customised Nike Air Max 97s – which launched on 29th March 2021 – contained a drop of real human blood, as well as ‘Luke 10:18’ printed on them – a reference to a Biblical verse that reads ‘I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning From Heaven’.

Nike paid no part in the creation of the limited edition shoes – which sold out in minutes – and it ended in the sportswear giant suing MSCHF for trademark infringement.

How to use search listening to measure brand awareness

I’m going to show you how using some simple search listening tactics you can use to measure brand awareness, identify crises and stay on top of the reputation of a brand, product or person.

You can do this using a few simple tools: 

Google Trends’, a free tool by Google that analyses the popularity of top search queries.

Google Suggest’, the wording that appears when you type a word or phrase into the Google search box – like the ‘running shoes’ example below. They work based on popularity, similarity, or if something is trending. 

AnswerThePublic’ has both a free and Pro version, and takes Google suggest data en-masse and will save you a ton of time – we’ll come on to this later.

What does ‘Satan Shoes’ show us about how PR can influence search behaviour?

In the Google Trends graph above you can clearly see a huge increase in people searching for ‘Satan + Nike’. 

Up until the collaboration launch at the end of March those two words hadn’t been searched for together because people didn’t have a reason to.

The peaks in the Google Trends graph correlate to peaks of the Nike story. Initially at product launch and following as the crisis (for Nike) unfolded and news followed the court case.

TIP: don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the page when using Google trends – there is a ton of insight there about topics related to your keyword, such as these for the keyword ‘Nike’ which have all appeared since the ‘Satan Shoes’ story – learn more about what this is in the webinar.

Google’s suggestions (also known as Google’s autocomplete):

Google’s suggestions are the results that automatically appear when you type a word or phrase into the Google search box. They work based on popularity or similarity. So if something is trending in Google’s suggestions – it means lots of people are searching for the same topic at the same time.

Using autocomplete data to report on brand awareness:

To explain this, I’m going to take the artist PR perspective on the ‘Satan Shoes’ story.

This is what Google suggestions look like when I type in ‘lil nas X’:

Here we can see three suggestions related to the ‘Satan Shoes’:

  • Lil nas x shoes
  • Lil nas x satan shoes
  • Lil nas x trainers

If you’ve launched a campaign – like ‘Satan Shoes’ – and words associated with it appear here, then that’s a good thing for brand awareness, as it means that lots of people are searching for it at one time.

If you’re reporting a campaign back to your boss, or a client and keywords connected to your activity appear in Google’s suggestions within the launch period – include this as a simple indicator of success.

​To add an extra metric, you can also measure how long the story stays in the top suggestions. It’s there because people are searching for it online, which means they are interested in it. 

Using autocomplete data to track crisis or reputation: 

To explain this, I’m now going to switch to the perspective of Nike, the brand that didn’t want any association with ‘Satan Shoes’. 

The before the ‘Satan Shoes’ story broke, autosuggestions for the keyword ‘Nnike’ looked like this:

But on the day ‘Satan Shoes’ launched, the autosuggestions changed to search suggestions of Satan because of the news surrounding the launch, and we can get the best view of this by using AnswerThePublic.

​AnswerThePublic listens into autocomplete data from search engines like Google en-masse then quickly cranks out every useful phrase and question people are asking around your keyword – saving lots of time in having to do manual searches:

The ‘branches’ above give the same information as Google’s autocomplete data, but use connecting words to extend your search – giving you hundreds of suggestions, rather than the maximum of ten shown in Google’s suggestions. 

​​Pro users of AnswerThePublic have access to two features that can help to further validate the search impact of a piece of work, as well as spot emerging crises early and monitor reputation.

​Using the ‘Compare’ feature, you can track a keyword before the launch of your activity to post-launch, and see the new searches that have appeared during that period as a result of the activity.

This is a snapshot of an AnswerThePublic ‘Compare’ report, for the keyword ‘Nike’: 

The dates I have chosen to compare are March 23rd 2021 – 30th March, because 23rd March is the week before the ‘Satan Shoes’ story broke, and 30th March is after. 

We can see that there are 58 new suggestions (highlighted in green) around the keyword ‘Nike’ in that period, 12 of which are related to ‘Satan Shoes’ – 4 of which contain the word ‘satan’, 3 contain the words ‘lil nas’, 3 with the word ‘blood’, one with the word ‘sue’ and one with the word ‘jesus’.

Remember, this data is pulled from Google autosuggestions, which means that the searches are trending at this moment in time, and they’re showing here because they’re the top suggestions relating to Nike. Search behaviour has changed as a direct result of ‘Satan Shoes’, and  Nike is being directly related to it by people searching for information about the story. 

Search Listening Alerts are weekly email digests showing what new questions are being asked around any topic or keyword you have entered into AnswerThePublic.

Here is the search listening alert I got for the keyword ‘Nike’ on 30th March, the day after the launch of ‘Satan Shoes’:

If I worked for Nike and I hadn’t known about ‘Satan Shoes’, the search listening alert would have given me an early warning of an emerging crisis, which could affect the brand’s reputation. 

Check out our full search listening alerts training webinar here for hints and tips about getting the most out of the feature.​

The ‘Satan Shoes’ case study appears in: ‘Beyond Share of Search: What matters for PR’ a new research paper written by a PRCA innovation group, which explores what this new metric is, and how to apply it in PR, as well as in our latest webinar: Search Listening: How to use Google data in PR insight and measurement.